Speaker: Stephen Batchelor
In this seminar, Stephen begins deconstructing Buddhism with the metaphor of the poisoned arrow. Buddhism does not deal with metaphysical explanations; instead, it urges us to act. The Buddha gave a template for a better society, not just a personal spiritual practice. Cautioning against the two dead ends of indulgence and asceticism, the Buddha saw a Middle Way for individuals as well as for society.Podcast: Play in new window [Play]
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Speakers: Stephen & Martine Batchelor
Stephen and Martine take questions on topics including religiosity vs. the spiritual path; the story of the Buddha’s awakening; the way that the Buddha saw the Dharma as a healing medicine; stopping rebirth; and the validity of ancient texts.Podcast: Play in new window [Play]
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Speaker: Martine Batchelor
Martine describes the Buddhist phrase “no mind” not as anti-mind, but as a mind that sticks nowhere. What happens when we experience sense objects? Do we stick at the experience, trying to prolong or push away? At this point, meditation can help us develop the ability to choose whether it is skillful to engage creatively in the experience. Meditation exercises our ability to open up so that we see choice more clearly.Podcast: Play in new window [Play]
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Speaker: Stephen Batchelor
Stephen looks at the Buddha’s central metaphor of “awakening.” According to early Pali texts, the Buddha awoke to the Four Noble Truths. Often, we are taught that the Buddha awoke to original nature, or the Truth. The Four Noble Truths are alive, and they challenge our lives to act appropriately at every moment. In this seminar, Stephen also discusses the meaning of “dukkha,” and that the Buddha urges everyone to fully know it, to go directly into the darkness, where we may ultimately know a deep beauty.Podcast: Play in new window [Play]
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Speakers: Stephen & Martine Batchelor
Martine begins the Q & A humorously with the topic of daydreaming; Stephen explains the meaning of “antaka;” attachment. Other topics in this session include feeling tones of sensation; unpacking sukkha; meditation; and the meaning and role of Mara.Podcast: Play in new window [Play]
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Saturday, December 26, 2009
Release Year: 2003
Duration: 57 min
In Another Life is a five-year labor of love by a filmmaker who has studied reincarnation for over 30 years. Beautifully produced, it features top experts in the fields of reincarnation research, past-life therapy and Eastern spirituality, along with first-hand accounts by people who have had personal experiences.
Release Year: 2007
Duration: 58 min
Yoga has transformed from an ancient spiritual practice into a competitive, commercialized, multi-million dollar industry. And for a practice rooted in renunciation, yoga sure is making some people very rich. Can yoga survive this war between the sacred and the profane with its good karma intact?
Esak Garcia is a star on the burgeoning competitive yoga circuit, racking up cash prizes and edging ever closer to snagging an endorsement deal. But Esak’s ultimate goal is the Olympics, a dream instilled in him by his guru, Bikram Choudhury. Bikram’s supporters applaud his crusade to have yoga recognized as an Olympic sport. His detractors are horrified. It’s typical of the controversies that surround the ‘Bad Boy of Yoga’. Bikram has also copyrighted his popular yoga style. Those who teach ‘Bikram yoga’ without playing by his rules are hit with crippling copyright infringement fees. So a group of yoga studio owners take Bikram to court to pose an important legal question; can anyone ‘own’ yoga?
In today’s yoga world only the marketplace has real meaning, where everything is up for grabs, from yoga shoes to chakra panties. The new mantras are Standardize and Supersize. In the race to cash in yoga chains (‘McYoga’?) are popping up everywhere, putting the smaller studios out of business. No wonder purists are scratching their heads. Is nothing sacred?Greed, lust, ego and the search for enlightenment all come together in this original, irreverent portrait of spiritualism and capitalism colliding head on.
Friday, December 25, 2009
So, when we elected a man who is transitioning from Orange to Green (pardon the Spiral Dynamics speak, but it helps to make sense of why Obama is failing as a leader), the conservative opposition referred to him as too soft (read: feminine) to lead, as a socialist, and/or as a globalist. Mostly, they disliked him because his values are different than theirs, which makes him inherently wrong in their eyes.
To understand where Obama is developmentally, it helps to have a good model, such as Spiral Dynamics. SD offers a biopsychosocial stage model of personal and cultural development.
Here are the key stages we see in the majority of people in America:
What people in each world seek out in life...Here are some of Chris Cowan's (co-founder of the Spiral Dynamics model) conceptions of stage-shifts we see right now in various areas of our society and around the world:
PURPLE Placate spirit realm; honor ancestors; protection from harm; family bonds.
RED Power/action; asserting self to dominate others; control; sensory pleasure.
BLUE Stability/order; obedience to earn reward later; meaning; purpose; certainty.
ORANGE Opportunity/success; competing to achieve results; influence; autonomy.
GREEN Harmony/love; joining together for mutual growth; awareness; belonging.
Many business people are in the ORANGE-TO-GREEN transition seeking a return to more community and spirit in their lives.Keep these ideas in mind as I cite some material from two recent articles. One from AlterNet (Is Obama's Problem That He Just Doesn't Want to Deal with Conflict? by Drew Westen) and one from US News & World Report (Critics Say Obama Lacks Emotion, by Kenneth T. Walsh). In a sense, these articles are offering two different perspectives on the same issue.
A number of politicians are in the BLUE-TO-ORANGE range trying to move from structured bureaucracy to entrepreneurism and free markets.
Many activists are living in the GREEN-TO-YELLOW zone as they work to achieve positive results on a human scale through interaction, involvement, and purposeful learning and teaching.
Some developing regions are still in the PURPLE-TO-RED transition as ancient tribal ways confront well-armed dictators, while others are in the RED-TO-BLUE as centralized authority tries to contain factional battles.
First, from Weston, a Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Emory University, founder of Westen Strategies, and author of The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation (right now only $5.66), since his argument is longer and more complex:
What's costing the president are three things: a laissez faire style of leadership that appears weak and removed to everyday Americans, a failure to articulate and defend any coherent ideological position on virtually anything, and a widespread perception that he cares more about special interests like bank, credit card, oil and coal, and health and pharmaceutical companies than he does about the people they are shafting.That should give you a good sense of how Obama looks to the center right now, and it is not good. In a similar line of thought, Walsh looks at Obama's apparent aloofness, a strong quality to some in his inner circle, but not to most Americans.
* * *
Consider the president's leadership style, which has now become clear: deliver a moving speech, move on, and when push comes to shove, leave it to others to decide what to do if there's a conflict, because if there's a conflict, he doesn't want to be anywhere near it.
* * *
This president has a particular aversion to battling back gusting winds from his starboard side (the right, for the nautically challenged) and tends to give in to them. He just can't tolerate conflict, and the result is that he refuses to lead.
We have seen the same pattern of pretty speeches followed by empty exhortations on issue after issue. The president has, on more than one occasion, gone to Wall Street or called in its titans (who have often just ignored him and failed to show up) to exhort them to be nice to the people they're foreclosing at record rates, yet he has done virtually nothing for those people.
* * *
It's his job to lead us out of it, not to run from it. It's his job to make the tough decisions and draw lines in the sand. But Obama really doesn't seem to want to get involved in the contentious decisions. They're so, you know, contentious. He wants us all to get along. Better to leave the fights to the Democrats in Congress since they're so good at them.
* * *
The second problem relates to the first. The president just doesn't want to enunciate a progressive vision of where this country should be heading in the 21st century, particularly a progressive vision of government and its relation to business. He doesn't want to ruffle what he believes to be the feathers of the American people, to offer them a coherent, emotionally resonant, values-driven message -- starting with an alternative to Ronald Reagan's message that government is the problem and not the solution -- and to see if they might actually follow him.
* * *
The problem with the president's strategic team is that they don't understand the difference between compromising on policy and compromising on core values. When it comes to policies, listen all you want to the Stones: "You can't always get what you want" (although it would be nice if the administration tried sometime). But on issues of principle -- like allowing regressive abortion amendments to be tacked onto a health care reform bill -- get some stones. Make your case to the American people, make it evocatively, and draw the line in the sand. That's how you earn people's respect. That's the only thing that will bring Independents back.And that's where the problem of message comes in. This White House has no coherent message on anything. The message on health care reform changed even more frequently than the interest rates on credit cards last Spring, and turned a 70-30 winning issue into its current 30-50 status with the public.
* * *
And capping off all of these aspects of the president's leadership style is his preference for the lowest common denominator. That means you don't really have to fight, you don't have to take anybody on, you don't take any risks. You just find what the public is so upset about that even the Republicans would stipulate to it if forced to (e.g., that excluding people from health care because they have "pre-existing conditions" is something we can't continue to tolerate) and build it into whatever plan the special interests can hammer out around it.
Unfortunately, what Democrats just can't seem to understand is that the politics of the lowest common denominator is always a losing politics. It sends a meta-message that you're weak -- nothing more, nothing less -- and that's the cross the Democrats have had to bear since they "lost China" 60 years ago. And in fact, it is weak.* * *
Obama, like some many Democrats in Congress, has fallen prey to the conventional Democratic strategic wisdom: that the way to win the center is to tack to the center.
But it doesn't work that way.
You want to win the center? Emanate strength. Emanate conviction. Lead like you know where you're going (and hopefully know what you're talking about).
Again, not a flattering take on a man who so many of us placed our hope in as a new kind of leader, a passionate man who would bring integrity and compassion to the White House.
President Obama is a cool customer. He doesn't seem to get really angry, depressed, or frustrated or to lose control of his emotions.And that's the problem. To some of his supporters, Obama is presiding over a passionless presidency. He seems too cerebral and personally disengaged from the problems of everyday Americans.
* * *
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says, "He doesn't get real high or real low." Gibbs adds that Americans should be comforted by Obama's steadiness.
When emotions well up, Obama prefers to be alone with his thoughts.
* * *
Obama recently told 60 Minutes that he considered his December 1 speech at West Point announcing the surge "probably the most emotional speech that I've made." Yet his feelings were not very much in evidence. He came across as almost totally analytical.
The problem comes not when a president shows emotion but when he goes overboard. Americans want to know that their leader shares their emotions at times of tragedy, sorrow, or outrage. And that emotional side is something that Obama has yet to fully communicate.
So, how we can account for the difference between the electric speaker who ignited such enthusiasm as a candidate, and the man who now stands (so far) as a bitter disappointment?
For me, it is the same collection of traits that made him a great candidate that have made him a poor leader.
1) He has great intrapersonal intelligence (he knows who he is and how to modulate his thoughts and feeling), which is what made him a candidate who rarely made mistakes on the campaign trail. This makes him seem aloof and withdrawn as President.
2) He also great interpersonal intelligence (an ability to connect with people) that allows him to deliver very moving speeches on topics he is passionate about (such as his Philadelphia race speech). But as a leader, he is crippled by his need to build consensus and avoid conflict.
3) When nos. 1 and 2 are combined in a person who wants to lead by getting people to join together and share a vision (the Green stage from above), the result is, as Weston points out, reduction to the lowest common denominator. His belief in working together seems to prevent him from leading from his internal sense of what is right. And his distaste for conflict keeps him from engaging directly in the fray, which is what we need him to do.
4) Contrary to the tag of Socialist the right keeps throwing at him, or maybe because of it, Obama has constructed an economic policy that is more friendly to business than G.W. Bush ever thought of being. That is the Orange stage in him, the belief in autonomy and opportunity in the market. It led him to bail out the banks instead of the citizens. It also led him to make deals with Big Pharma to pass health care, while doing nothing to reign in their excesses.
5) Finally, I think Obama is paralyzed by his desire to appear in control and unruffled by the challenges he inherited as president (to be fair, he inherited unprecedented challenges both in the economic collapse and in the social divisions). As a candidate he seemed to be a man who cared about the lowest among us, but as president he has attempted to straddle the divide between liberalism (people suffer as a result of inequities in the system) and conservatism (people suffer as a result of their own weakness or laziness) and as a result has done little to help those who are suffering most in this economic climate.
What we have seen so far (in my opinion) from Obama as a leader is a failure to understand his role. If I were his life coach, I would be asking him to assert more of his intrapersonal intelligence in terms of following his heart and gut and to redirect his interpersonal intelligence toward getting people (the Congress, for example) to do what he wants, rather than letting them do the work (which is bound to be corrupted by special interests, as we have seen in the health care debate) and trying to avoid conflict.
As Weston points out, he needs to "Emanate strength. Emanate conviction." And he needs to do so with clear, appropriate emotion.
In this excellent article Ferrer is critical of Leonard & Murphy's and Wilber's cognitive-based approach to Integral Transformative Practice [ITP by Michael Murphy & George Leonard, or Integrl Life Practice (ILP) by Ken Wilber] and recommends a more somatic, embodied approach. I really like what he has to say here - this perspective really should be integrated into the existing models.
This is his main point:
What is needed is to complement modern ITP proposals with participatory approaches that (a) facilitate the autonomous maturation of all human dimensions according to their own developmental dynamics; and (b) balance the exercise of human attributes with the creation of spaces for the coming into being of novel qualities and inner potentials. Then a genuine integral growth – one that is both grounded in our most vital potentials and co-created by all human dimensions -- may have some possibility to unfold.Here is the abstract and introduction:
Read the whole interesting article.
Jorge N. FerrerABSTRACT: Most psychospiritual practices in the modern West suffer from favoring growth of mind and heart over physical and instinctive aspects of human experience with many negative consequences. Michael Murphy and Ken Wilber have each made excellent contributions in offering prescriptions for “Integral Transformative Practice” (ITP) which includes various physical and psychospiritual disciplines. Their prescriptions, however, can easily perpetuate the mind-centered direction of growth characteristic of the modern West in that they inherently ask one's mind to pick and commit to already constructed practices. Needed is an approach that will permit all human dimensions to co-creatively participate in the unfolding of integral growth. As one possible solution, the author presents a program of ITP developed by Albareda and Romero in Spain. Their Holistic Integration is based in group retreats to practice “interactive embodied meditations,” which involve contemplative physical contact between practitioners that allows access to the creative potential of all human dimensions.
In an age of spiritual confusion, a consensus is growing among transpersonal authors and spiritual teachers about the importance of an integral growth of the person -- that is, a developmental process that integrates all human dimensions (body, instincts, heart, mind, and consciousness) into a fully embodied spiritual life.1 This emerging understanding stems in large part from an awareness of the many pitfalls of a lopsided development, such as spiritual bypassing (Welwood, 2000), spiritual materialism and narcissism (Caplan, 1999; Lesser, 1999), offensive spirituality and spiritual defenses (Battista, 1996), ethical and psychosexual problems in the guru-disciple relationship (Butler, 1990; Kornfield, 1975; Kripal, 1999), difficulties in integrating spiritual experiences (Bragdon, 1990; Grof & Grof, 1989), and a devitalization of the body and inhibition of primary-sexual energies (Romero & Albareda, 2001), to name only a few.
Although the idea of an integral spiritual life that it is firmly grounded in psychosomatic integration can be found in the world's religious literature – for example, in Sri-Aurobindo's synthesis of yogas and the Christian phenomenon of incarnation -- not many efforts exist in contemporary Western culture that are aimed at the exploration and development of an effective praxis to actualize this potential in human lives. More specifically, not much attention is given to the maturation of the somatic, instinctive, sexual, and emotional worlds, and the unfolding of genuine integral growth in spiritual practitioners seems to be the exception to the rule. As several authors note, even spiritual leaders and teachers across traditions display an uneven development; for example, high level cognitive and spiritual functioning combined with ethically conventional or even dysfunctional interpersonal, emotional, or sexual behavior (e.g., Feuerstein, 1991; Kripal, 2002; Wilber, 2001). A related outcome of this unbalanced development is that many honest spiritual efforts are undermined by conflicts or wounds at somatic, sexual, or emotional levels. Too often, spiritual seekers struggle with tensions existing between their spiritual ideals and their instinctive, sexual, and emotional drives, recurrently falling into unconsciously driven patterns or habits despite their most sincere conscious intentions.
What is more, a lopsided psychospiritual development may have detrimental implications not only for human flourishing, but also for spiritual discernment. As I suggest elsewhere, it is likely that many past and present spiritual visions are to some extent the product of dissociated ways of knowing – ways that emerge predominantly from emotional or mental access to subtle forms of transcendent consciousness but are ungrounded from vital and immanent spiritual sources (Ferrer, 2002). For example, spiritual visions that hold that body and world are ultimately illusory (or lower, or impure, or a hindrance to spiritual liberation) arguably derive from states of being in which the sense of self mainly or exclusively identifies with subtle energies of consciousness, getting uprooted from the body and immanent spiritual life. From this existential stance, it is understandable, and perhaps inevitable, that both body and world are seen as ultimately illusory or defective. But if our somatic and vital worlds are invited to participate in our spiritual lives, making our sense of identity permeable to not only transcendent awareness but also immanent spiritual energies, then body and world become hierophanies -- sacred realities that are crucial for human and cosmic spiritual evolution.
An examination of the numerous historical and contextual variables behind the tendency towards what we may call a “heart-chakra-up” spirituality goes beyond the aim of this paper, but I would like to mention at least a possible underlying reason. As Romero and Albareda (2001) suggest in the context of Western culture, the inhibition of the primary dimensions of the person – somatic, instinctive, sexual, and certain aspects of the emotional -- may have been actually necessary at certain juncture to allow the emergence and maturation of the values of the human heart and consciousness. More specifically, this inhibition may have been essential to avoid the reabsorption of a still relatively weak, emerging self-consciousness and its values into the stronger presence that a more instinctively driven energy once had in the individual. In the context of religious traditions, this may be connected to the widespread consideration of certain human qualities as being spiritually more “correct” or wholesome than others; for instance, equanimity over intense passions, transcendence over sensuous embodiment, chastity over sexual exploration, and so forth. What may characterize our present moment, however, is the possibility of reconnecting all these human potentials in an integrated way. In other words, having developed self-reflective consciousness and the subtle dimensions of the heart, it may be the moment to reappropriate and integrate, while retaining these values, the more primary and instinctive dimensions of human nature into a fully embodied spiritual life.2
But what does it really mean to live a fully embodied spiritual life? Is it actually possible to integrate the many needs, desires, dynamics, and understandings of the various dimensions of our being harmoniously? Can we in fact cultivate the voice and wisdom of our bodies, instincts, hearts, minds, and souls without generating tensions or dissociations within us? And, perhaps most importantly, how can we lay down and walk a truly integral spiritual path that respects the integrity of the many voices dwelling within us? In other words, how can we foster the maturation of these dimensions, not only honoring their nature but also facilitating their creative participation in our spiritual lives?
To begin exploring these complex questions, this paper opens with a brief review of some contemporary proposals of Integral Transformative Practice (ITP). I then outline a participatory perspective on integral growth that may complement and expand these accounts. Finally, I introduce Holistic Integration, an integral approach created by Ramon V. Albareda and Marina T. Romero which may offer a practical answer to some of the difficulties that beset modern individuals attempting to develop an integral life in the modern West. The paper concludes with some reflections on ITP as an incarnational praxis.
As an aside, he proposes at least four levels of self, from least complex to most complex:
1. Neural Self (or proto-self) - a short term collection of neural patterns of activity which represent the current state of the organismIn Damasio's view, one which I share, emotions are body states that then are interpreted by the brain to assign a label based on memory and previous learning. The classic example of this was demonstrated years before Damasio wrote his book. In the study, (Schachter & Singer, 1962) researchers gave epinephrine to subjects (telling them it was a vitamin), half of which were told what to expect and half were told nothing or given false information. All subjects were left with a confederate who either acted euphoric or angry. Those told what to expect attributed their arrousal to the injection. Those who were given no information or false information labeled their own experience in line with the behavior of the confederate, not having any other information on which to base their feelings. The researches suggest that emotion is based on arousal + cognition, on the assumption that most emotions share similar body-states.
2. Core Self - a second-order entity which maps the state of the proto-self in rather the same way the proto-self maps the current state of the body: whenever an encounter with an object impinges on the proto-self, the change is registered by activity in the core self
3. Autobiographical Self - draws on permanent (though modifiable) memories instead of just the immediate experiences which power the core self. At this point, there is a real, though still pre-linguistic, sense of self. Damasio thinks chimpanzees and probably dogs enjoy this level of consciousness
4. Reflective Self - greater use of longer-term memory, delivers the kind of foresighted, reflective consciousness which we typically associate with human beings
In general, then, the autobiographical self, or narrative self, creates a story to explain body states based on either environmental cues or previous experience.
To further complicate matters, Damasio also posits an "as-if" body loop, which allows hypothetical states of the body to be represented and considered - that seems to imply an 'as if' self.
Here is the rather complicated way Damasio describes the attribution of emotion:
It may sound strange, at first, that feelings of emotion - which are steeped in the representations of body states, only come to be known after other representations of body state have been integrated to give rise to a proto-self. And it sounds strange, for certain, that the means to know a feeling is another feeling. The situation becomes understandable, however, when we realize that the proto-self, feelings of emotion, and the feeling of knowing feelings emerged at different points of evolution and to this day emerge at different stages of individual development. Proto-self precedes basic feeling and both precede the feeling of knowing that constitutes core consciousness. (The Feeling of What Happens, pg. 280-281)One more quote that supports the study above:
The collection of neural patterns which constitute the substrate of a feeling arise in two classes of biological changes: changes related to body state and changes related to cognitive state. (pg. 281)Emotion = body state (arousal) + cognition.
All of which is to set up this cool lecture from Damasio - The Katz Lecture: Emotion, Feeling, and Social Behavior: The Brain Perspective (2003).
University of Iowa
Emotion, Feeling, and Social Behavior: The Brain Perspective“Neither anguish nor the elation that love or art can bring about are devalued by understanding some of the myriad biological processes that make them what they are… Our sense of wonder should increase before the intricate mechanisms that make such magic possible.”
Antonio Damasio’s trilogy, Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain (1994), The Feeling of What Happens (1999) and Looking for Spinoza (2003), inspired the theme for the 2003 UW Summer Arts Festival, Spheres. Delving into activity in the anterior portion of the cerebral hemi"spheres," Damasio’s research “… brings us closer to understanding the delicate interaction between affect, consciousness, and memory - the processes that both keep us alive and make life worth living” (Harcourt Books).
Michael D. Anestis, M.S., of the very excellent Psychology Brown Bag blog, has posted a very helpful article on the state of the DSM-V, linking to various updates he has posted in the last year or so.
DSM-V - A discussion of potential changes
by Michael D. Anestis, M.S.The publication of DSM-V was recently pushed back a year to 2013 in order to ensure adequate time for public scrutiny and properly run field trials, but discussion of possible changes is already ongoing. On PBB, we have discussed a number of these potential changes and I would like to provide a summary post today to make it easier for you to access all of this information.
In the past, we have discussed potential DSM-V changes to the following sets of mental illnesses:
- Mood and anxiety disorders in general
- Personality disorders
- Autism spectrum disorders (click here for a follow-up post on this topic)
- Eating disorders (click here for a separate article discussing night eating syndrome as a possible addition to the DSM)
In the next year, we will continue to post new articles discussing potential DSM-V changes as new evidence emerges. In the meantime, we would love to hear your thoughts and questions on the matter.
If you are interested in this or other topics discussed on PBB, we hope you will consult our online store of scientifically-based psychological resources.
THE UNION OF BLISS AND EMPTINESS:
Teachings on the
Practice of Guru Yoga
by the Dalai Lama
translated by Thupten Jinpa
Dalai Lama Quote of the Week
19. Though all things are like a dream, lacking inherent existence,
I sincerely rejoice in every virtue that ever arises
As the happiness and joy of all aryas and ordinary beings.
—Panchen Lozang Chokyi Gyaltsen
This is the limb of rejoicing. Here you should admire and rejoice in the accumulation of virtues not only of yourself, but also of other sentient beings, buddhas, arhats, and so forth. You must admire and cultivate joy from the depths of your heart for your own virtues, too. Your attitude toward the virtues of others should not be influenced by jealousy. So, at this point, reflect upon the great qualities of the figures of the merit field and then rejoice in them. Here the text says, "Although all phenomena lack any status apart from nominal existence on the conventional level, yet since positive fruits are produced from positive causes, I shall rejoice in the deeds of others."
--from The Union of Bliss and Emptiness: Teachings on the Practice of Guru Yoga by the Dalai Lama, translated by Thupten Jinpa, published by Snow Lion Publications
Thursday, December 24, 2009
Wow! Just . . . wow! I'm watching this on DVD on a hi-def TV, but you can watch it on Google video for free (below). Visual poetry.
The film is often compared to Koyaanisqatsi, the first of the Qatsi films by Godfrey Reggio of which Fricke was cinematographer. Baraka's subject matter has some similarities—including footage of various landscapes, churches, ruins, religious ceremonies, and cities thrumming with life, filmed using time-lapse photography in order to capture the great pulse of humanity as it flocks and swarms in daily activity. The film also features a number of long tracking shots through various settings, including one through former German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Tuol Sleng (in Cambodia) turned into museums honoring their victims: over photos of the people involved, past skulls stacked in a room, to a spread of bones. In addition to making comparisons between natural and technological phenomena, such as in Koyaanisqatsi, Baraka searches for a universal cultural perspective: for instance, following a shot of an elaborate tattoo on a bathing Japanese yakuza mobster with one of Native Australian tribal paint.
The movie was filmed at 152 locations in 24 countries: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Cambodia, China, Ecuador, Egypt, France, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Kuwait, Nepal, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, and the United States. It contains no dialogue. Instead of a story or plot, the film uses themes to present new perspectives and evoke emotion purely through cinema. The film was the first in over twenty years to be photographed in the 70mm Todd-AO format.
The title Baraka is a word that means blessing in many different languages. The score by Michael Stearns and featuring music by Dead Can Dance, L. Subramaniam, Ciro Hurtado, Inkuyo, Brother and David Hykes, is noticeably different from the minimalist one provided by Philip Glass for Koyaanisqatsi. The film was produced by Mark Magidson, who also produced and directed the film Toward the Within, a live concert performance by Dead Can Dance. A sequel to Baraka, Samsara, is planned to be released in 2010.
From Big Think:
Health Care Reform: Don't Stop Worrying About Tomorrow . . .
The U.S. Senate passed the health-care overhaul this morning, which means there's probably only one very risky step left before some sort of reform becomes law: reconciliation of the House and Senate bills.
Assuming the bill doesn't go off the rails at that stage, here are two things to keep worrying about going forward, one medium-term and one long.
Medium-term, as a number of people at Talking Points Memo have noted, there is the fact that big changes in the bill aren't supposed to take effect for years -- 2013 in the House version and 2014 in the Senate. That leaves years for citizens to feel that the big reform changed nothing, and it leaves the new law vulnerable to reversal if the Democrats lose their majorities in 2010 or 2012.
Long-term, the fundamental problem with health-care systems over time is that they take up a larger and larger share of national income, reducing the amount of money people can spend and invest in other things. This is true all over the world, regardless of insurance systems, which is why health-care is a political problem in Europe and Asia as well as in North America. As Atul Gawande recently pointed out, medical care in the 21st century is on its way to taking the role agriculture had in the 19th: The economic undertow pulling against economic advancement.
In today's rich nations, the agricultural drag was removed by hugely increasing the productivity of farms (certainly one reason those nations became rich). Can medical care likewise be made more efficient? Certain steps seem obvious: Pay doctors and hospitals for per patient, rather than per procedure, so they don't have an incentive to do more than is necessary. Cut back on expensive high-technology gizmos whose overuse can cause disease as well as cure it. Make the system more rewarding for physicians who focus on primary care, prevention and geriatrics than for expensive specialists. Maybe the new law's pilot programs and experiments will suss out the best means to make those kinds of changes.
In the longest run, though, it does seem that over time, people with good health care want more of it, not less. (It's amazing to think that the architects of Britain's National Health Service predicted that costs would stay steady because demand for medical care would fall as people became more healthy; instead, of course, the definition of "good health'' changed to include more care, and costs kept rising.)
In that long run, then, it may be that societies all over the world will have to decide which is the lesser of two evils: "Too little'' care or "too much'' cost. So far politicians everywhere perpetuate the fantasy that people can have the opposite--more care for less cost--but that myth won't last forever.
It's great the American medical system looks set to become more accessible, fair, and flexible. But the big issue isn't going away any time soon.
Healthcare Passes, But the Fight Goes On
December 24, 2009
Health reform appeared on the verge of death many times over the past few weeks, but early Christmas Eve morning the Senate passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on a party-line vote after major concessions were made to secure the votes of conservative Democrats. The Party's fragile unity was amusingly underscored during the role call vote when Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), in a confused moment, voted "no" before quickly correcting himself.Though this is the first time in generations of trying to overhaul our healthcare system that both chambers of Congress have passed a reform package, many progressives do not consider today's vote a victory. The public plan died--at Joe Lieberman's hand, no less--and the bill contains restrictions on abortion coverage that threaten women's access to reproductive health services.
Despite these very serious shortcomings, however, the bill the Senate passed would reduce the number of uninsured Americans by 31 million by 2019. The Medicaid program will be open to new ranks of the country's poorest residents, and the near-poor and middle class will get subsidies to buy insurance. The Senate also advanced some important delivery system reforms that could chart a path towards reining in costs.
As disappointed as progressives are with the compromises Democratic leaders made to get this bill through the Senate--and as tempting it is to believe they may have gotten a better deal if they'd pursued a more aggressive strategy--they are on the verge of doing many other lawmakers have tried and failed to do. And if this effort fails, another generation may pass before another chance will come to try again.
Before a bill reaches President Obama's desk, of course, the Senate must merge its draft with the much more progressive version passed by the House. Given that Senate Democrats only narrowly blocked a Republican filibuster with the help of Joe Lieberman and other conservatives, it seems unlikely that the merged bill will include the provisions that were deal breakers for right-leaning Democratic Senators. But there are less hot-button issues that are still worth fighting on to ensure reform helps as many Americans as possible:
1) Affordability: The House generally does a much better job helping low- and moderate-income Americans afford coverage. For the very poor, it opens the Medicaid program individuals who earn less than $16,245 per year, whereas the Senate only makes the program available to those earning less than $14,404. The Senate offers more subsidies to help the middle class buy coverage than the House, but the Senate's subsidized insurance offers weaker coverage than that mandated by the House and leaves these Americans far more exposed to out-of-pocket costs.
2) Enforceability: The Senate would have insurers sell policies in state-based exchanges, relying on state officials to police the market. The House, on the other hand, sets up a national exchange, and many believe the federal government can do a much better job protecting consumers than state regulators. There are also questions about whether the Senate's legislative language protects consumers' right to go to court if insurance companies violate the new regulations.
The House says that insurance companies can only charge an older person twice as much as a younger person. While that may still be a wide variation that could hurt older consumers, it is better than the Senate's language, which allows insurers to charge three times as much.
There's also a minor provision in the Senate bill that could prove to undermine one of health reform's most important regulations. On paper, the Senate bans "underwriting," the practice of charging higher premiums to those with pre-existing conditions. But the Senate allows for the creation of "wellness incentives," which are theoretically designed to encourage Americans to do things like quit smoking or exercise by reducing premiums for those who engage in healthy behaviors. But the Senate includes virtually no limits on what "wellness" indicators an insurance company can measure and allows for huge variations in premiums. This could mean people who have been pregnant, have high blood pressure, or are HIV-positive could be hit with thousands of dollars in extra premiums. (Harry Reid did add one restriction at the last minute, however: gun owners can rest assured they will not pay more because their property explodes.)
3) Financing: The House is funded primarily through a progressive income tax on families earning more than one million dollars, and it also requires employers to either cover their employees or pay into the system.
The Senate, on the other hand, relies on a tax on "high cost" health plans. The hope is that this will slow health-care inflation. But the tax is poorly designed and implemented in the absence of other, more aggressive cost-control measures, which means there's a good chance this could wind up hitting people who are not receiving lavish benefits. The Senate also ditches an employer mandate in favor of an awkward fine on employers if they have any employees who take federal subsidies to buy care on their own. This might create a perverse incentive against hiring low-income people.
The House version is expected to cover five million more Americans than the Senate's, largely through its expansion of the Medicaid program. The delicate politics means things like the public option are probably off the table. But there are other, more achievable goals that are worth fighting for in the weeks ahead.
Ven. Nyantiloka (Buddhist Dictionary: Manual of Buddhist Terms and Doctrines)
One's mind becomes pliable and tractable through meditation. It also does so through listening to a progressive discourse (on giving, virtue, the heavens, Dharma, and Abhidharma) leading to the arousal of spiritual/religious feeling, confidence (faith), yearning to attain liberation, and finally insight. The German scholar-monk, Ven. Nyanatiloka, explains:
"PROGRESS OF A DISCIPLE: Gradual development of the Noble Eightfold Path. In many sutras an identical passage occurs that outlines the gradual course of development in the progress of the disciple. There it is shown how this development takes place gradually and in conformity with laws, from the very first hearing of the doctrine [Dharma], and from germinating faith and dim comprehension, up to the final realization of deliverance [nirvana].
"After hearing the [Dharma], one is filled with confidence, and one thinks: 'Full of hindrances is household life, a refuse heap. But the wandering life (of a recluse) is like the open air. Not easy is it, when one lives at home, to fulfill in all points the rules of the holy or supreme life [brahmacarya].
"How if now I were to cut off hair and put on the saffron robe, and go forth from home to the left-home life?' And after a short time, having given up one's possessions great or few, having forsaken a circle of relations, small or large, one cuts off hair, puts on the saffron robe, and goes forth from home to the wandering life.
"Having thus left the world, one fulfills the rules of recluses:
- One avoids the killing of living beings and abstains from it. Without stick or sword, conscientious, full of sympathy, one is desirous of the welfare of all living beings.
- One avoids stealing...
- avoids unchastity...
- avoids lying...
- harsh speech...
- idle talk...
- One abstains from destroying seeds and plants;
- eats only at one time of the day;
- keeps aloof from dance, song, music, and shows;
- rejects adornments, perfumes, ointments, as well as any other kind of vain accessory and embellishment;
- does not use high and luxurious beds;
- does not accept gold and silver;
- keeps aloof from buying and selling things;
- is content with robe for protection and alms-bowl for food;
- provided with these two things wherever one may go just like a winged bird in flying carries along its two wings.
"By fulfilling the noble domain of virtue (sila) one feels in one's heart an irreproachable happiness."
In what follows thereafter it is shown how the disciple watches over the five senses as well as the mind. And by this noble restraint of the senses (indriya-samvara) feels at heart an unblemished happiness, how in all actions one is ever mindful and clearly conscious, and how being equipped with this lofty virtue (sila), equipped with this noble restraint of the senses and with mindfulness and clear comprehension (sati-sampajanna), one chooses a secluded .
And freeing the mind from the Five Hindrances, one reaches full concentration (samadhi, [the first four jhanas]); and how one is, thereafter, by developing insight (vipassana) with regard to the impermanency (anicca), misery (dukkha), and impersonality (anatta) of all phenomena of existence, one finally realizes deliverance from all cankers and defilements. And thus this assurance arises: "For ever am I liberated. This is the last time I am born. No new existence awaits me."
(References: Cf. DN 1, 2f; MN 27. 38. 51. 60. 76.; AN IV.198; X.99; Pug. 239, etc.).
This whole thing is a mess. Obama should have taken a real leadership role in this process rather than allowing the Congress to do whatever the hell they want to do, largely influenced by the insurance lobbyists and the pharmaceutical industry. Meanwhile, we get no real reform.
Here is a summary of the various primary issues from US News and World Report.
How the Senate Bill Would Change Healthcare
By Rick Newman
Posted: December 24, 2009
It’s not official yet--but it’s getting awfully close. With the Senate finally passing an $871 billion healthcare reform bill, there’s just one major step left before the most sweeping healthcare legislation in at least 45 years becomes law. Senate negotiators will next meet with their counterparts in the House—which passed its own $894 billion bill in November—to work out the differences and try to forge one bill that Congress can present to President Obama.
[See why health insurers make lousy villains.]
The last hurdle is a high one, though. Like most of the deliberations so far, the House-Senate negotiations will probably be rancorous and tense, with familiar standoffs over the cost of healthcare reform, new fees and taxes, the virtues of a public option, abortion coverage, and pet projects rolled into the bill even though they have nothing to do with healthcare. Obama had hoped to have a signed bill that he could tout during his State of the Union speech, which typically occurs in late January or early February. But the two chambers may still be dickering when Obama takes to the podium. Still, momentum is building toward a historic set of new rules that will profoundly change healthcare, for better or worse.
One reason the final negotiations will be so daunting is that both bills contain hundreds of provisions that would impose new rules on insurers, healthcare providers, employers and patients, while also setting up numerous pilot programs to experiment with ways to provide better, cheaper care. Here are a few provisions of the Senate bill that would impact consumers the most, with a summary of how the House bill compares:
Required coverage (the “individual mandate”). American citizens and legal residents would be required to have health insurance, or pay a fine. For an individual, the fine would be $750 per year or 2 percent of household income, whichever is greater; for a family, the maximum fine would be $2,250 per year or 2 percent of household income. The fines would go into effect gradually, starting in 2014. The House bill is similar, with exemptions for certain low-income people.
Employer obligation. Companies with more than 200 employees would be required to enroll their workers in a health insurance plan, with no ability for employees to opt out. Companies with more than 50 but fewer than 200 workers would not be required to offer insurance, but if they didn’t, they’d have to pay a fee of $750 per employee each year (with some variations). Companies with fewer than 50 workers would not have to offer insurance or pay any fees. Those rules would go into effect in 2014. The House bill would place similar requirements on employers, but with a different way of determining which companies are required to offer insurance.
Government-run health insurance (the “public option”). There is no public option in the Senate bill. The House bill would establish a government-run insurer that would compete with private insurers offering coverage to those not covered by their employers. The public option is one of the biggest differences between the House and Senate bills, and is likely to be one of the biggest battles as healthcare reform hits the home stretch.
Insurance exchanges. This is how people would buy insurance if they don’t have an employer that provides it. The structure is complicated, but these exchanges would basically be run by each state in conjunction with the federal government, and states would be allowed to create additional mechanisms for offering insurance to their residents. Traditional insurance companies would be allowed to compete for customers through the exchanges, provided they met a set of requirements set by the federal government. The least expensive plans would offer catastrophic coverage only, and not be available to everyone. There would be several other levels of coverage, priced more for each bump-up in benefits. The exchanges would go into effect in 2014. The House bill includes similar reforms, although there would be an additional health-insurance exchange at the national level. And the public health-insurance plan (not included in the Senate bill) would compete with private plans on each of the exchanges.
Subsidies to help pay for coverage. In general, government subsidies would help cover the cost of insurance for individuals earning as much as 400 percent of the poverty level. (In 2009, the poverty level for an individual in most states was $10,830; for a family of 4, it was $22,050. So an individual earning less than $43,320 or a family of 4 earning less than $88,200 would qualify for some aid.) The House bill has a similar income threshold for subsidies, but a different formula for determining how much the subsidy would be.
[See why more competition won’t fix healthcare.]
Medicaid expansion. Eligibility for Medicaid would be expanded to people or families earning 133 percent of the poverty level (with exceptions), effective in 2014. The House bill would broaden Medicaid eligibility to those earning 150 percent of the poverty level, and do so by 2013.
Insurance for high-risk patients. People who can’t get traditional coverage on account of a pre-existing medical condition would be eligible for insurance under a new “national high-risk pool,” with rates comparable to those for the general population. The pool would go into effect quickly--within 90 days of a bill becoming law. The House bill has a similar provision, with different ceilings for allowed premiums and deductibles.
Lifetime limits. Insurance companies would no longer be allowed to cap the amount of lifetime benefits or cancel coverage, unless the patient defrauded the insurer. Those rules would go into effect in 2010. By 2014, there would be tougher limits prohibiting annual caps on benefits, in addition to lifetime caps. The House bill has similar provisions and would go a step further by severely restricting insurance companies’ ability to deny coverage on account of pre-existing conditions.
New taxes. To help pay for increased coverage, a number of long-standing tax credits and deductions would decline, while taxes on some other benefits would increase. One of the most prominent changes would be a tax on “gold-plated” health insurance plans that provide lavish benefits but are expensive; the threshold at which the surtax would kick in would be $8,500 for an individual’s annual premium and $23,000 for a family’s. There’s a lot of fine print, however, and some people with gold-plated plans would probably end up exempted from the tax. The House bill doesn’t tax gold-plated plans, but raises funds through an additional 5.4 percent income tax on individuals earning $500,000 or more per year, and families earning $1,000,000 or more. All of these new taxes are controversial, creating more flash points for negotiators.
[See how the government is swallowing the economy.]
Abortion coverage. Federal subsidies cannot be used to fund abortion unless the life of the mother is at risk or there’s a case of rape or incest. The House bill has a similar provision, with an additional stipulation that prohibits federal money from being spent on any insurer that provides abortions, even if it’s with private funds.
Indoor tanning. Beginning in 2010, there would be an additional 10 percent tax on the cost of indoor tanning services, to help pay for health reform. No kidding. The House bill contains no such provision. Yet.